New towns needed to reverse ‘market failure’ which caused Scotland’s housing crisis, says Ruth Davidson
The development of new towns, a cabinet level post for the housing minister and the creation of a new housing and infrastructure agency are among a raft of ideas to be announced by Ruth Davidson today as she outlines a fresh focus on housing for the Scottish Conservatives.
In a keynote speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research in Edinburgh, the party leader will say that “market failure” is to blame for a national housing crisis not seen since the aftermath of the Second World War and declare that similar political courage is need to ensure that young people in their 20s and 30s once again have a realistic chance of buying a home, without having to rely on support for their parents.
Housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland welcomed the change in direction from the party it blames for causing part of the crisis by selling off thousands of council homes.
In her speech, Ms Davidson will outline her party’s support for new generation of new towns and unveil a plan to ensure Scotland returns to building 25,000 homes a year, of all tenure.
The call for a series of new towns was first made by the independent Scottish Housing Commission, set up by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, two years ago.
New villages such as Chapelton outside Aberdeen – where landowners, developers and the local authority have come together to design a new community – have led the way in demonstrating how to build local consent for new housing.
The Scottish Conservatives are now calling for the Scottish Government to do more to encourage similar developments, and for new powers be given to local authorities over new town development if necessary.
The party will also press the Scottish Government to make housing a key strategic priority, with a housing minister in cabinet, and a Housing Infrastructure Agency on hand to help plan the necessary roads, and rail and public amenities required for new developments.
Ruth Davidson will say: “The last time we had a housing crisis on this scale was in the aftermath of World War II. Back then, politicians had the courage to act in order to get building. We now need to find the same courage to address today’s needs.
“Market failure is depriving thousands of young people one of the most basic opportunities in society: the ability to buy and own your home.
“Our mailbags as MSPs are now full of concerns about housing: from people on the waiting list for a council house, to couples unable to afford a starter home. We need to do something about it.”
On the proposal for a new generation of new towns, she will say: “A report for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has proposed that as many as six to eight new communities are required across Scotland.
“It is time seize the moment – and look at a series of new generation new towns.
“We are already seeing some beautiful new villages and towns springing up in Scotland which have put high quality design, affordable homes, and community values at the heart of their development. That’s the way to go.
“If we can learn from the ambition of the post-war generation, we can learn from their mistakes too – by, for example, putting the needs of people and communities first.
“By acknowledging that we are not just building housing, we are in the job of creating homes, nurturing communities, and adding to the beauty of our country.
“Because if new developments complement the local environment and avoid the disastrous design choices of the past we can all get behind a new generation of towns and villages across the country.”
On a new Housing Infrastructure Agency, she will add: “We would support the creation a new national Housing Infrastructure Agency to be tasked with delivering the basic infrastructure – the roads and public services – around which new housing can be built.
“I don’t think most people are natural Nimbys. Most often, people’s concern about new housing is the concern that, if a thousand new homes are built nearby, then that’s a thousand more cars clogging up the drive to work, and more pressure on school places, and on GP clinics.
“A single Agency could be called on by local authorities to help them tackle these infrastructure challenges.”
And on a new housing and infrastructure minister, she will declare: “What better way to signal strong government backing for this new agency, than by actually putting a housing and infrastructure minister in the Scottish cabinet.
“If we really do want housing to become a national priority, then the man or woman delivering it should be at the cabinet table.
“To be clear, I am not talking about taking planning control out of the hands of local authorities and local communities.
“This is about national government providing the strategic direction that allows local communities to press ahead. It could restore trust in new housing.”
Responding to the announcement, Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: “It’s really positive to see the Scottish Conservatives focusing on housing – particularly since right-to-buy legislation is part of the reason we have a shortage of social housing on which many low income households depend.
“We have long since supported the creation of a cabinet level post for a Housing Minister as this person would have the authority to bring together different national and local agencies to tackle the shortage of affordable housing in a co-ordinated way. We also very much welcome the proposal to create a new housing and infrastructure agency as an issue worth further consideration.
“However, the focus has to be on providing homes which are genuinely affordable for those who need them most and which stay affordable, rather than feeding the next cycle of boom and bust in the housing market.”